Classes ended yesterday. Final exams begin tomorrow. But today is nothing. It’s Quiet Day here at the University.
Apparently at other schools this is called Dead Day. Back at IU, we didn’t have such a day, but we did have Dead Week, which was simply the last week of classes during which no big assignments would be due — a mere convention, if memory serves.
Why we call it Quiet Day here is a mystery to me, but I like it. It conjures in my mind the idea of a time set aside for quiet contemplation, which is surely something we all could use. In fact, I reflected on my morning ride to work, although I enjoy and respect sacred music, nothing evokes the sacred so well as silence. The best sacred music might emerge from silence — but of course that reflects my own culturally conditioned notions of the sacred. Noise can be sacred too, I suppose, but in our noisy society I prefer the quiet approach. My co-worker Jim has been on at least one silent retreat, where participants basically don’t speak for the entire weekend or designated period. It seems like a good practice to me.
The mundane reality is that Quiet Day is a day much like any other, especially for someone like me who doesn’t teach. It’s a little quieter on campus, less active, but it’s not as if people are walking around mute. It’s like a collective intake of breath, a moment of calm before the final movement in the annual symphony, before the final burst of activity that culminates with the commencement ceremony.
What this day really means to me in practical terms can be summed up in one word: shorts. No matter how hot the spring weather, I feel compelled to wear long pants while classes are in session. But today I’m in shorts and will likely remain so for the next five or six months. Sweet relief.